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Samsung shuts down its AI-powered Mall shopping app in India

Posted by | Amazon, Android, Apps, artificial intelligence, Asia, Bixby, india, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, Shopclues, Xiaomi | No Comments

Samsung has quietly discontinued an app that it built specifically for India, one of its largest markets and where it houses a humongous research and development team. The AI-powered Android app, called Samsung Mall, was positioned to help users identify objects around them and locate them on shopping sites to make a purchase.

The company has shut down the app a year and a half after its launch. Samsung Mall was exclusively available for select company handsets and was launched alongside the Galaxy On7 Prime smartphone. News blog TizenHelp was first to report the development.

At the time of launch, Samsung said the Mall app would complement features of Bixby, the company’s virtual assistant. Bixby already offers a functionality that allows users to identify objects through photos — but does not let them make the purchase.

samsung mall india

“The first insight while developing Samsung Mall was that consumers may be looking to find the price, the colour, delivery options and a lot of other things. Indian consumers want to find the best deals first. They aren’t tied up with one particular portal as well,” Sanjay Razdan, director of Samsung India told local outlet India Today at the time of the launch.

Samsung partnered with Amazon, ShopClues and TataCLiQ to show relevant results from these retailers on its “one-stop online experience” app. Users were also able to compare prices to see which website was offering them the item at lowest cost.

Samsung Mall app was downloaded about five million times from Google Play Store in India since March 2018, Randy Nelson, head of Mobile Insights at analytics firm SensorTower told TechCrunch. The app had begun to lose its popularity in recent months, though. Samsung has pulled the app from the app store.

“Downloads in May totaled 275,000 — which was down 38% year-over-year from 476,000 in May 2018. It was ranked No. 1,055 by downloads in India’s Google Play store in May — down from 487 a year ago,” said Nelson.

Once the top smartphone vendor in India, Samsung has lost that crown to Xiaomi. The Chinese smartphone maker has held the tentpole position in India for two straight years now, according to research firm IDC.

A Samsung spokesperson in India, reached out to by TechCrunch on Monday, has yet to comment on the story.

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Foxconn halts some production lines for Huawei phones, according to reports

Posted by | Android, Apple, Companies, donald trump, Foxconn, Google, huawei, mobile phones, operating system, president, shenzhen, smart phone, smartphone, smartphones, TC, telecommunications, United States, Xiaomi | No Comments

Huawei, the Chinese technology giant whose devices are at the center of a far-reaching trade dispute between the U.S. and Chinese governments, is reducing orders for new phones, according to a report in The South China Morning Post.

According to unnamed sources, the Taiwanese technology manufacturer Foxconn has halted production lines for several Huawei phones after the Shenzhen-based company reduced orders. Foxconn also makes devices for most of the major smart phone vendors including Apple and Xiaomi (in addition to Huawei).

In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” to protect U.S. networks from foreign technologies, Huawei and several of its affiliates were barred from acquiring technologies from U.S. companies.

The blacklist has impacted multiple lines of Huawei’s business including it handset manufacturing capabilities given the company’s reliance on Google’s Android operating system for its smartphones.

In May, Google reportedly suspended business with Huawei, according to a Reuters report. Last year, Huawei shipped over 200 million handsets and the company had a stated goal to become the world’s largest vendor of smartphones by 2020.

These reports from The South China Morning Post are the clearest indication that the ramifications of the U.S. blacklisting are beginning to be felt across Huawei’s phone business outside of China.

Huawei was already under fire for security concerns, and will be forced to contend with more if it can no longer provide Android updates to global customers.

Contingency planning is already underway at Huawei. The company has built its own Android -based operating system, and can use the stripped down, open source version of Android that ships without Google Mobile Services. For now, its customers also still have access to Google’s app store. But if the company is forced to make developers sell their apps on a siloed Huawei-only store, it could face problems from users outside of China.

Huawei and the Chinese government are also retaliating against the U.S. efforts. The company has filed a legal motion to challenge the U.S. ban on its equipment, calling it “unconstitutional.”  And Huawei has sent home its American employees deployed at R&D functions at its Shenzhen headquarters.

It has also asked its Chinese employees to limit conversations with overseas visitors, and cease any technical meetings with their U.S. contacts.

Still, any reduction in orders would seem to indicate that the U.S. efforts to stymie Huawei’s expansion (at least in its smartphone business) are having an impact.

A spokesperson for Huawei U.S. did not respond to a request for comment.

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China’s largest chipmaker is delisting from the NYSE

Posted by | Android, Asia, China, Companies, Google, huawei, Intel, Qualcomm, shanghai, spokesperson, telecommunications, United States, Xiaomi | No Comments

The U.S-China trade war is increasingly influencing tech. Huawei has suffered a turbulent past week with key suppliers pausing work with the company, and now China’s largest chipmaker is planning to delist from the New York Stock Exchange.

Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) announced in a filing published Friday that it plans to delist next month ending a 15-year spell as a public company in the U.S. The firm will file a Form 25 to delist on June 3, which is likely to see it leave the NYSE around ten days later. SMIC, which is backed by the Chinese government and state-owned shareholders, will focus on its existing Hong Kong listing going forward but there will be trading options for those holding U.S-based ADRs.

In its announcement, SMIC said it plans to delist for reasons that include limited trading volumes and “significant administrative burden and costs” around the listing and compliance with reporting.

What it doesn’t say is that this is linked to the frosty relationship between the U.S. and China, and already the company has played that rationale.

“SMIC has been considering this migration for a long time and it has nothing to do with the trade war and Huawei incident. The migration requires a long preparation and timing has coincided with the current trade rhetoric, which may lead to misconceptions,” a spokesperson told CNBC.

Still, it is impossible to ignore the current context. Huawei’s entry to a U.S. blacklist has paused its relationship with key suppliers including ARM, Qualcomm, Intel and Google, which supplies the Android OS for its phones, so SMIC’s decision to remove its financial links to the U.S. fees into fears of a bifurcation of U.S. and Chinese tech, deliberate or not.

SMIC’s shares dropped 4 percent in Hong Kong on Friday. Trading of its U.S-based ADRs crossed one million on Friday, that’s well above an above 90-day volume of nearly 150,000 per day.

The company is China’s largest chip firm, specializing in integrated circuit manufacturing with clients such as Qualcomm, Broadcom and Texas Instruments. SMIC made a profit of $746.7 million in 2018 on revenues of $3.36 billion. Its most recent Q1 results released earlier this month saw revenue fall 19 percent year-on-year.

There has always been tension around Chinese companies using U.S. public markets to go public, and not just from an American standpoint. Chinese companies are increasingly exploring other options, including Hong Kong — where Xiaomi went public last year — while a-soon-to-launch ‘science and tech’ board in Shanghai is hotly touted as an alternative destination.

The board launches in pilot mode next month, but already Chinese bankers and tech companies have found it challenging to deliver on expectations, as a Reuters report earlier this year concluded.

Update: The headline of this article has been updated to reflect that SMIC is delisting from the NYSE not the Nasdaq

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China’s largest chipmaker is delisting from the Nasdaq

Posted by | Android, Asia, China, Companies, Google, huawei, Intel, Qualcomm, shanghai, spokesperson, telecommunications, United States, Xiaomi | No Comments

The U.S-China trade war is increasingly influencing tech. Huawei has suffered a turbulent past week with key suppliers pausing work with the company, and now China’s largest chipmaker is planning to delist from the New York Stock Exchange.

Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) announced in a filing published Friday that it plans to delist next month ending a 15-year spell as a public company in the U.S. The firm will file a Form 25 to delist on June 3, which is likely to see it leave the NYSE around ten days later. SMIC, which is backed by the Chinese government and state-owned shareholders, will focus on its existing Hong Kong listing going forward but there will be trading options for those holding U.S-based ADRs.

In its announcement, SMIC said it plans to delist for reasons that include limited trading volumes and “significant administrative burden and costs” around the listing and compliance with reporting.

What it doesn’t say is that this is linked to the frosty relationship between the U.S. and China, and already the company has played that rationale.

“SMIC has been considering this migration for a long time and it has nothing to do with the trade war and Huawei incident. The migration requires a long preparation and timing has coincided with the current trade rhetoric, which may lead to misconceptions,” a spokesperson told CNBC.

Still, it is impossible to ignore the current context. Huawei’s entry to a U.S. blacklist has paused its relationship with key suppliers including ARM, Qualcomm, Intel and Google, which supplies the Android OS for its phones, so SMIC’s decision to remove its financial links to the U.S. fees into fears of a bifurcation of U.S. and Chinese tech, deliberate or not.

SMIC’s shares dropped 4 percent in Hong Kong on Friday. Trading of its U.S-based ADRs crossed one million on Friday, that’s well above an above 90-day volume of nearly 150,000 per day.

The company is China’s largest chip firm, specializing in integrated circuit manufacturing with clients such as Qualcomm, Broadcom and Texas Instruments. SMIC made a profit of $746.7 million in 2018 on revenues of $3.36 billion. Its most recent Q1 results released earlier this month saw revenue fall 19 percent year-on-year.

There has always been tension around Chinese companies using U.S. public markets to go public, and not just from an American standpoint. Chinese companies are increasingly exploring other options, including Hong Kong — where Xiaomi went public last year — while a-soon-to-launch ‘science and tech’ board in Shanghai is hotly touted as an alternative destination.

The board launches in pilot mode next month, but already Chinese bankers and tech companies have found it challenging to deliver on expectations, as a Reuters report earlier this year concluded.

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Xiaomi teases another look at its foldable phone

Posted by | Asia, foldables, hardware, huawei, Mobile, mobile phones, Samsung, smartphones, TC, telecommunications, Xiaomi | No Comments

Xiaomi is back with another teaser of the foldable concept device it first showed off in January.

This time around, in a video posted to its Weibo account, the Chinese company showed off the device working in tablet mode and, after folding, regular phone mode to illustrate how seamlessly it can be tucked up and put away… in this case atop a cup of noodles.

Video: hat tip The Verge

Xiaomi has said it is developing a device — the previous video included a call-out for ideas and feedback — so the project isn’t likely as advanced as soon-to-launch products from Samsung, Huawei or lesser-known Chinese brand Royole.

Unlike those three, Xiaomi’s offers two foldable edges instead of just one. That would appear to present a much tougher challenge in terms of design and logistics, but this new teaser (and there’s no doubt Xiaomi chose it carefully) seems to show impressive results. The phone folds nicely in terms of hardware and software, but you’d imagine those edges will make it thicker than others.

It’s all ifs and buts for now, though, since Xiaomi isn’t giving up details of what this product might become… or even whether it will become one at all. But Xiaomi being Xiaomi, you’d imagine that when it does drop, it won’t just be the two folds that set it apart from the rest. The Chinese firm is massively price-sensitive, so you can expect that it’ll price any foldable phone it releases much lower than the $2,000 or so that Samsung and Huawei are asking for their gen-one efforts.

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Razer hooks up with Tencent to focus on mobile gaming

Posted by | airasia, Android, Asia, ceo, Companies, computing, consumer electronics, Consumer Electronics Show, Earnings, Gaming, HTC, LG, malaysia, Meituan, Min-Liang Tan, mobile phones, mol, Razer, razer phone, Singapore, smartphone, smartphones, Southeast Asia, TC, Tencent, Xiaomi | No Comments

Razer is summoning a big gun as it bids to develop its mobile gaming strategy. The Hong Kong-listed company — which sells laptops, smartphones and gaming peripherals — said today it is working with Tencent on a raft of initiatives related to smartphone-based games.

The collaboration will cover hardware, software and services. Some of the objectives include optimizing Tencent games — which include megahit PUBG and Fortnite — for Razer’s smartphones, mobile controllers and its Cortex Android launcher app. The duo also said they may “explore additional monetization opportunities for mobile gaming,” which could see Tencent integrate Razer’s services, which include a rewards/loyalty program, in some areas.

The news comes on the same day as Razer’s latest earnings, which saw annual revenue grow 38 percent to reach $712.4 million. Razer recorded a net loss of $97 million for the year, down from $164 million in 2017.

The big-name partnership announcement comes at an opportune time for Razer, which has struggled to convince investors of its business. The company was among a wave of much-championed tech companies to go public in Hong Kong — Razer’s listing raised more than $500 million in late 2017 — but its share price has struggled. Razer currently trades at HK$1.44, which is some way down from a HK$3.88 list price and HK$4.58 at the end of its trading day debut. Razer CEO Min Liang Tan has previously lamented a lack of tech savviness within Hong Kong’s public markets despite a flurry of IPOs, which have included names like local services giant Meituan.

Nabbing Tencent, which is one of (if not the) biggest games companies in the world, is a PR coup, but it remains to be seen just what impact the relationship will have at this stage. Subsequent tie-ins, and potentially an investor, would be notable developments and perhaps positive signals that the market is seeking.

Still, Razer CEO Min Liang Tan is bullish about the company’s prospects on mobile.

The company’s Razer smartphones were never designed to be “iPhone-killers” that sold on volume, but there’s still uncertainty around the unit with recent reports suggesting the third-generation phone may have been canceled following some layoffs. (Tan declined to comment on that.)

Mobile is tough — just ask past giants like LG and HTC about that… and Razer’s phone and gaming-focus was quickly copied by others, including a fairly brazen clone effort from Xiaomi, to make sales particularly challenging. But Liang maintains that, in doing so, Razer created a mobile gaming phone market that didn’t exist before, and ultimately that is more important than shifting its own smartphones.

“Nobody was talking about gaming smartphones [before the Razer phone], without us doing that, the genre would still be perceived as casual gaming,” Tan told TechCrunch in an interview. “Even from day one, it was about creating this new category… we don’t see others as competition.”

With that in mind, he said that this year is about focusing on the software side of Razer’s mobile gaming business.

Tan said Razer “will never” publish games as Tencent and others do, instead, he said that the focus is on helping discovery, creating a more immersive experience and tying in other services, which include its Razer Gold loyalty points.

Outside of gaming, Razer is also making a push into payments through a service that operates in Southeast Asia. Fueled by the acquisition of MOL one year ago, Razer has moved from allowing people to buy credit over-the-counter to launch an e-wallet in two countries, Malaysia and Singapore, as it goes after a slice of Southeast Asia’s fintech boom, which has attracted non-traditional players that include AirAsia, Grab and Go-Jek, among others.

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5G phones are here but there’s no rush to upgrade

Posted by | 5g, Android, Apple, Asia, barcelona, broadband, Caching, China, deutsche telekom, donovan sung, Europe, european commission, european union, huawei, Intel, Internet of Things, iPhone, LG, Mobile, mwc 2019, Qualcomm, Samsung, singtel, smartphone, smartphones, south korea, TC, telecommunications, Xiaomi | No Comments

This year’s Mobile World Congress — the CES for Android device makers — was awash with 5G handsets.

The world’s No.1 smartphone seller by marketshare, Samsung, got out ahead with a standalone launch event in San Francisco, showing off two 5G devices, just before fast-following Android rivals popped out their own 5G phones at launch events across Barcelona this week.

We’ve rounded up all these 5G handset launches here. Prices range from an eye-popping $2,600 for Huawei’s foldable phabet-to-tablet Mate X — and an equally eye-watering $1,980 for Samsung’s Galaxy Fold; another 5G handset that bends — to a rather more reasonable $680 for Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 5G, albeit the device is otherwise mid-tier. Other prices for 5G phones announced this week remain tbc.

Android OEMs are clearly hoping the hype around next-gen mobile networks can work a little marketing magic and kick-start stalled smartphone growth. Especially with reports suggesting Apple won’t launch a 5G iPhone until at least next year. So 5G is a space Android OEMs alone get to own for a while.

Chipmaker Qualcomm, which is embroiled in a bitter patent battle with Apple, was also on stage in Barcelona to support Xiaomi’s 5G phone launch — loudly claiming the next-gen tech is coming fast and will enhance “everything”.

“We like to work with companies like Xiaomi to take risks,” lavished Qualcomm’s president Cristiano Amon upon his hosts, using 5G uptake to jibe at Apple by implication. “When we look at the opportunity ahead of us for 5G we see an opportunity to create winners.”

Despite the heavy hype, Xiaomi’s on stage demo — which it claimed was the first live 5G video call outside China — seemed oddly staged and was not exactly lacking in latency.

“Real 5G — not fake 5G!” finished Donovan Sung, the Chinese OEM’s director of product management. As a 5G sales pitch it was all very underwhelming. Much more ‘so what’ than ‘must have’.

Whether 5G marketing hype alone will convince consumers it’s past time to upgrade seems highly unlikely.

Phones sell on features rather than connectivity per se, and — whatever Qualcomm claims — 5G is being soft-launched into the market by cash-constrained carriers whose boom times lie behind them, i.e. before over-the-top players had gobbled their messaging revenues and monopolized consumer eyeballs.

All of which makes 5G an incremental consumer upgrade proposition in the near to medium term.

Use-cases for the next-gen network tech, which is touted as able to support speeds up to 100x faster than LTE and deliver latency of just a few milliseconds (as well as connecting many more devices per cell site), are also still being formulated, let alone apps and services created to leverage 5G.

But selling a network upgrade to consumers by claiming the killer apps are going to be amazing but you just can’t show them any yet is as tough as trying to make theatre out of a marginally less janky video call.

“5G could potentially help [spark smartphone growth] in a couple of years as price points lower, and availability expands, but even that might not see growth rates similar to the transition to 3G and 4G,” suggests Carolina Milanesi, principal analyst at Creative Strategies, writing in a blog post discussing Samsung’s strategy with its latest device launches.

“This is not because 5G is not important, but because it is incremental when it comes to phones and it will be other devices that will deliver on experiences, we did not even think were possible. Consumers might end up, therefore, sharing their budget more than they did during the rise of smartphones.”

The ‘problem’ for 5G — if we can call it that — is that 4G/LTE networks are capably delivering all the stuff consumers love right now: Games, apps and video. Which means that for the vast majority of consumers there’s simply no reason to rush to shell out for a ‘5G-ready’ handset. Not if 5G is all the innovation it’s got going for it.

LG V50 ThinQ 5G with a dual screen accessory for gaming

Use cases such as better AR/VR are also a tough sell given how weak consumer demand has generally been on those fronts (with the odd branded exception).

The barebones reality is that commercial 5G networks are as rare as hen’s teeth right now, outside a few limited geographical locations in the U.S. and Asia. And 5G will remain a very patchy patchwork for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, it may take a very long time indeed to achieve nationwide coverage in many countries, if 5G even ends up stretching right to all those edges. (Alternative technologies do also exist which could help fill in gaps where the ROI just isn’t there for 5G.)

So again consumers buying phones with the puffed up idea of being able to tap into 5G right here, right now (Qualcomm claimed 2019 is going to be “the year of 5G!”) will find themselves limited to just a handful of urban locations around the world.

Analysts are clear that 5G rollouts, while coming, are going to be measured and targeted as carriers approach what’s touted as a multi-industry-transforming wireless technology cautiously, with an eye on their capex and while simultaneously trying to figure out how best to restructure their businesses to engage with all the partners they’ll need to forge business relations with, across industries, in order to successfully sell 5G’s transformative potential to all sorts of enterprises — and lock onto “the sweep spot where 5G makes sense”.

Enterprise rollouts therefore look likely to be prioritized over consumer 5G — as was the case for 5G launches in South Korea at the back end of last year.

“4G was a lot more driven by the consumer side and there was an understanding that you were going for national coverage that was never really a question and you were delivering on the data promise that 3G never really delivered… so there was a gap of technology that needed to be filled. With 5G it’s much less clear,” says Gartner’s Sylvain Fabre, discussing the tech’s hype and the reality with TechCrunch ahead of MWC.

“4G’s very good, you have multiple networks that are Gbps or more and that’s continuing to increase on the downlink with multiple carrier aggregation… and other densification schemes. So 5G doesn’t… have as gap as big to fill. It’s great but again it’s applicability of where it’s uniquely positioned is kind of like a very narrow niche at the moment.”

“It’s such a step change that the real power of 5G is actually in creating new business models using network slicing — allocation of particular aspects of the network to a particular use-case,” Forrester analyst Dan Bieler also tells us. “All of this requires some rethinking of what connectivity means for an enterprise customer or for the consumer.

“And telco sales people, the telco go-to-market approach is not based on selling use-cases, mostly — it’s selling technologies. So this is a significant shift for the average telco distribution channel to go through. And I would believe this will hold back a lot of the 5G ambitions for the medium term.”

To be clear, carriers are now actively kicking the tyres of 5G, after years of lead-in hype, and grappling with technical challenges around how best to upgrade their existing networks to add in and build out 5G.

Many are running pilots and testing what works and what doesn’t, such as where to place antennas to get the most reliable signal and so on. And a few have put a toe in the water with commercial launches (globally there are 23 networks with “some form of live 5G in their commercial networks” at this point, according to Fabre.)

But at the same time 5G network standards are yet to be fully finalized so the core technology is not 100% fully baked. And with it being early days “there’s still a long way to go before we have a real significant impact of 5G type of services”, as Bieler puts it. 

There’s also spectrum availability to factor in and the cost of acquiring the necessary spectrum. As well as the time required to clear and prepare it for commercial use. (On spectrum, government policy is critical to making things happen quickly (or not). So that’s yet another factor moderating how quickly 5G networks can be built out.)

And despite some wishful thinking industry noises at MWC this week — calling for governments to ‘support digitization at scale’ by handing out spectrum for free (uhhhh, yeah right) — that’s really just whistling into the wind.

Rolling out 5G networks is undoubtedly going to be very expensive, at a time when carriers’ businesses are already faced with rising costs (from increasing data consumption) and subdued revenue growth forecasts.

“The world now works on data” and telcos are “at core of this change”, as one carrier CEO — Singtel’s Chua Sock Koong — put it in an MWC keynote in which she delved into the opportunities and challenges for operators “as we go from traditional connectivity to a new age of intelligent connectivity”.

Chua argued it will be difficult for carriers to compete “on the basis of connectivity alone” — suggesting operators will have to pivot their businesses to build out standalone business offerings selling all sorts of b2b services to support the digital transformations of other industries as part of the 5G promise — and that’s clearly going to suck up a lot of their time and mind for the foreseeable future.

In Europe alone estimates for the cost of rolling out 5G range between €300BN and €500BN (~$340BN-$570BN), according to Bieler. Figures that underline why 5G is going to grow slowly, and networks be built out thoughtfully; in the b2b space this means essentially on a case-by-case basis.

Simply put carriers must make the economics stack up. Which means no “huge enormous gambles with 5G”. And omnipresent ROI pressure pushing them to try to eke out a premium.

“A lot of the network equipment vendors have turned down the hype quite a bit,” Bieler continues. “If you compare this to the hype around 3G many years ago or 4G a couple of years ago 5G definitely comes across as a soft launch. Sort of an evolutionary type of technology. I have not come across a network equipment vendors these days who will say there will be a complete change in everything by 2020.”

On the consumer pricing front, carriers have also only just started to grapple with 5G business models. One early example is TC parent Verizon’s 5G home service — which positions the next-gen wireless tech as an alternative to fixed line broadband with discounts if you opt for a wireless smartphone data plan as well as 5G broadband.

From the consumer point of view, the carrier 5G business model conundrum boils down to: What is my carrier going to charge me for 5G? And early adopters of any technology tend to get stung on that front.

Although, in mobile, price premiums rarely stick around for long as carriers inexorably find they must ditch premiums to unlock scale — via consumer-friendly ‘all you can eat’ price plans.

Still, in the short term, carriers look likely to experiment with 5G pricing and bundles — basically seeing what they can make early adopters pay. But it’s still far from clear that people will pay a premium for better connectivity alone. And that again necessitates caution. 

5G bundled with exclusive content might be one way carriers try to extract a premium from consumers. But without huge and/or compelling branded content inventory that risks being a too niche proposition too. And the more carriers split their 5G offers the more consumers might feel they don’t need to bother, and end up sticking with 4G for longer.

It’ll also clearly take time for a 5G ‘killer app’ to emerge in the consumer space. And such an app would likely need to still be able to fallback on 4G, again to ensure scale. So the 5G experience will really need to be compellingly different in order for the tech to sell itself.

On the handset side, 5G chipset hardware is also still in its first wave. At MWC this week Qualcomm announced a next-gen 5G modem, stepping up from last year’s Snapdragon 855 chipset — which it heavily touted as architected for 5G (though it doesn’t natively support 5G).

If you’re intending to buy and hold on to a 5G handset for a few years there’s thus a risk of early adopter burn at the chipset level — i.e. if you end up with a device with a suckier battery life vs later iterations of 5G hardware where more performance kinks have been ironed out.

Intel has warned its 5G modems won’t be in phones until next year — so, again, that suggests no 5G iPhones before 2020. And Apple is of course a great bellwether for mainstream consumer tech; the company only jumps in when it believes a technology is ready for prime time, rarely sooner. And if Cupertino feels 5G can wait, that’s going to be equally true for most consumers.

Zooming out, the specter of network security (and potential regulation) now looms very large indeed where 5G is concerned, thanks to East-West trade tensions injecting a strange new world of geopolitical uncertainty into an industry that’s never really had to grapple with this kind of business risk before.

Chinese kit maker Huawei’s rotating chairman, Guo Ping, used the opportunity of an MWC keynote to defend the company and its 5G solutions against U.S. claims its network tech could be repurposed by the Chinese state as a high tech conduit to spy on the West — literally telling delegates: “We don’t do bad things” and appealing to them to plainly to: “Please choose Huawei!”

Huawei rotating resident, Guo Ping, defends the security of its network kit on stage at MWC 2019

When established technology vendors are having to use a high profile industry conference to plead for trust it’s strange and uncertain times indeed.

In Europe it’s possible carriers’ 5G network kit choices could soon be regulated as a result of security concerns attached to Chinese suppliers. The European Commission suggested as much this week, saying in another MWC keynote that it’s preparing to step in try to prevent security concerns at the EU Member State level from fragmenting 5G rollouts across the bloc.

In an on stage Q&A Orange’s chairman and CEO, Stéphane Richard, couched the risk of destabilization of the 5G global supply chain as a “big concern”, adding: “It’s the first time we have such an important risk in our industry.”

Geopolitical security is thus another issue carriers are having to factor in as they make decisions about how quickly to make the leap to 5G. And holding off on upgrades, while regulators and other standards bodies try to figure out a trusted way forward, might seem the more sensible thing to do — potentially stalling 5G upgrades in the meanwhile.

Given all the uncertainties there’s certainly no reason for consumers to rush in.

Smartphone upgrade cycles have slowed globally for a reason. Mobile hardware is mature because it’s serving consumers very well. Handsets are both powerful and capable enough to last for years.

And while there’s no doubt 5G will change things radically in future, including for consumers — enabling many more devices to be connected and feeding back data, with the potential to deliver on the (much hyped but also still pretty nascent) ‘smart home’ concept — the early 5G sales pitch for consumers essentially boils down to more of the same.

“Over the next ten years 4G will phase out. The question is how fast that happens in the meantime and again I think that will happen slower than in early times because [with 5G] you don’t come into a vacuum, you don’t fill a big gap,” suggests Gartner’s Fabre. “4G’s great, it’s getting better, wi’fi’s getting better… The story of let’s build a big national network to do 5G at scale [for all] that’s just not happening.”

“I think we’ll start very, very simple,” he adds of the 5G consumer proposition. “Things like caching data or simply doing more broadband faster. So more of the same.

“It’ll be great though. But you’ll still be watching Netflix and maybe there’ll be a couple of apps that come up… Maybe some more interactive collaboration or what have you. But we know these things are being used today by enterprises and consumers and they’ll continue to be used.”

So — in sum — the 5G mantra for the sensible consumer is really ‘wait and see’.

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Light is expanding from smartphone cameras to self-driving cars

Posted by | hardware, hmd, Light, Mobile, mwc 2019, Nokia, Sony, Xiaomi | No Comments

This year’s MWC has been very much the beginning of a new phase for Light. Until now, the Palo Alto startup has been best known for its 16-lens DSLR competitor, an utterly fascinating, if not particularly practical device.

At this week’s show, however, we’re seeing a wholly different side of the company, one focused on partnerships. The event has seen the company announce three big alliances — Nokia device maker HMD, Chinese handset company Xiaomi and Sony, whose component manufacturing division will be teaming with Light to develop advanced modules for its near-near-ubiquitous camera hardware.

It’s a promising new start for the five-year-old company, and one that could help Light become a major player for mobile cameras going forward. In an interview, CEO Dave Grannan told TechCrunch that the trio of deals are just the beginning, with more partnerships planned for a 2019 announcement.

The Nokia 9 is the first product of these deals. Announced at the show this week, the five-camera limited-edition flagship is the product of a module that appeared last year, utilizing the array to create complex composite image similar to the sorts of RAW shots one takes with an SLR. It’s one of a number of different arrays that can utilize Light’s technology to build a better mobile multi-camera system.

“When we started Light five years ago, it wasn’t obvious that we would build a dedicated camera to begin with,” Grannan tells TechCrunch. “We realized that we really needed to build a reference device. Something to show the world what could be done. The idea from the first days was to prove to the world that it could be done and then start licensing our technology into other verticals starting with mobile phones.”

The proof-of-concept 16-camera system was always meant to be a limited-edition product, according to the executive, and it ultimately sold out of its initial run. That number was in the tens of thousands, according to Grannan, though he won’t go into any more detail beyond that.

He was happy to discuss the startup’s future, however. In July, Light raised a whopping $121 million, led by SoftBank, bringing its total funding up to $181 million. It was the CEO Masayoshi Son who suggested the next step in the company’s evolution, moving to autonomous vehicles. While Light would be a new entrant in a field that already involves dozens of focused startups, Grannan believes it can offer imaging systems at a fraction of the cost of current LIDAR rigs — at around $5,000 apiece.

Light also plans to expand into security cameras, helping systems better process the information they collect. For now, however, it’s focused on mobile. And in spite of a push toward a more software-focused approached to mobile camera improvement, Grannan believes that phone camera arrays will continue to expand — though perhaps not quite to the 16-camera level Light implemented on its own devices. Currently the company is working on a nine-camera module.

“Within a couple of years, three cameras will seem quaint,” Grannan says. “People are going to need this approach because it’s never good enough with imaging.”

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Here are all the 5G phones announced at MWC

Posted by | huawei, LG, Mobile, mwc 2019, Samsung, TC, Xiaomi, zte | No Comments

Mobile World Congress is underway, which means there are a handful of brand spankin’ new 5G phones hitting the market soon.

How ever will you decide?

Here’s a look at all the 5G phones announced thus far:

Huawei Mate X

The Mate X is a foldable 5G phone with one 4.6-inch screen, another 6.6-inch 2480×1148 screen and (when unfolded) an 8-inch 2200×2480 display.

Some other specs:

  • Processor: Kirin 980
  • Battery: 4,5000mAh
  • Memory: 8GB RAM, 512GB internal
  • Price: $2,600
  • Size: 11mm folded, 5.4mm unfolded

LG V50 ThinQ 5G

Aside from its unbearably long name, the LG V50 ThinQ 5G’s claim to fame is a new biometric security measure called Hand ID, which reads the veins in your hand to authenticate your identity. Plus, the new LG flagship has a dual-screen case, which effectively turns the phone into a foldable.

Some other specs:

  • Processor: Qualcomm SDM855 Snapdragon 855
  • Battery: 4,000mAh
  • Memory: 6GB RAM, 128GB internal
  • Price: Unknown

Samsung Galaxy Fold

The Galaxy Fold is likely to be the most talked-about phone out of MWC because 1) it folds and 2) it’s made by the biggest phone maker in the world. The handset, with a 7.3-inch 1536×2152 Super AMOLED unfolded display and a 4.6-inch cover display, will be available April 26.

Some other specs:

  • Processor: Qualcomm SDM855 Snapdragon 855
  • Battery: 4,380mAh
  • Memory: 12GB RAM, 512GB internal
  • Price: $1,980
  • Size: 17mm folded

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G

The Samsung S10 5G is exactly what you would expect it to be. It’s packed with all the bells and whistles that might appeal to the customer who wants the top of the line phone regardless of price. It sports a 6.7-inch 1440×3040 AMOLED display.

Some other specs:

  • Processor: Qualcomm SDM855 Snapdragon 855
  • Battery: 4,500mAh
  • Memory: 8GB RAM, 256GB internal
  • Price: Unknown

Xiaomi Mi Mix 3

Interestingly, Xiaomi opted to leave 5G out of its flagship phone for the year, the Mi 9. That said, the 5G Mi Mix 3 has a handful of its own interesting features, including a sliding front-facing camera that results in a 93.4 percent screen-to-body ratio. It also has a dual-camera system that offers the ability to shoot slow-mo videos at 960 frames per second.

Some other specs:

  • Processor: Qualcomm SDM855 Snapdragon 855
  • Battery: 3,800mAh
  • Memory: 6GB RAM, 64GB/128GB internal
  • Price: $680

ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G

The Axon 10 Pro 5G doesn’t have many tricks, like a folding display, but it does come with a triple-camera system and what appears to be an in-display fingerprint reader. It also sports a 6.7-inch 1080p display. The phone will definitely launch in Europe and China, but no word on whether it will make its way stateside.

Some other specs:

  • Processor: Qualcomm SDM855 Snapdragon 855
  • Battery: 4,000mAh
  • Memory: 6GB RAM, 128GB internal
  • Price: Unknown

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The Google Assistant gets a button

Posted by | Android, Assistant, Google Assistant, LG, Nokia, operating systems, PIXEL, Samsung, smartphones, TC, Xiaomi | No Comments

Traditionally, the Google Assistant always lived under the home button on Android phones, but as the company announced at MWC today, LG, Nokia, Xiaomi, TCL and Vivo are about to launch phones with dedicated assistant buttons, similar to what Samsung has long done with its Bixby assistant.

The new phones with the button that are launching this week are the LG G8 ThinQ and K40 and the Nokia 3.2 and 4.2. The upcoming Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G and Mi 9, as well as new phones from Vivo (including the Vivo V15 Pro) and TCL will also feature a dedicated Assistant button. With this, Google expects that over 100 million devices will soon offer this feature.

With a dedicated button, Google can also build a few new features into the Android OS, too, that’ll make it easier to bring up some Assistant features that were traditionally always a few taps away.

As expected, a single tap on the button will bring up the Assistant, just like a long tap on your phone does today. A double tap will bring up the Assistant’s visual snapshot feature that provides you with contextual information about your day and location (similar to the sorely missed Google Now of days gone by). A long press activates what Google calls a “walkie talkie feature.” This ensures that the Assistant listens to longer queries, which Google says is “perfect for emails or long text message.”

It’s interesting to see that the Android ecosystem is now building these buttons into phones (and we can probably assume that Google’s own next-gen Pixel devices or the fabled low-end Pixel 3 will have one, too). They will make it easier to discover the Assistant, of course, and maybe get people to use it more often, too — and that’s surely what Google is hoping for.

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